Dissolved organic nitrogen (DON), which may act as a nutrient and a disinfection by-product precursor, accounts for most of the dissolved nitrogen in nitrified-denitrified wastewater effluents. To gain insight into the behavior of wastewater-derived DON in engineered and natural systems, samples from treatment plants employing a range of different processes were characterized by several different methods. Dissolved free and combined amino acids accounted for the majority of the identifiable DON. Combined amino acids typically accounted for less than 10-20% of the wastewater-derived DON. Other organic-nitrogen containing species such as EDTA and humic substances from the water source only accounted for a few percent of the remaining DON. The remaining DON mainly consisted of hydrophilic, low-molecular weight compounds, capable of passing through a 1 kDa ultrafilter. This fraction of the DON also contained most of the precursors of N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA). The chemical properties of wastewater-derived DON pose challenges to designers of wastewater treatment plants because most physical and chemical treatment processes will not remove low-molecular weight, hydrophilic compounds. (C) 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.